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Explanation Web Log Feature - The Atomic Revolution
Sometimes, my posts get a bit long. (Usually, I notice this when a reader--invariably not from The New Yorker--asks if I'm auditioning for The New Yorker.)

Sometimes, actual interviewing, research, reporting will yield far more information than will fit in a post.

Sometimes, there may actually be a lot to tell.

Sometimes, a topic or theme stretches across several posts, and it makes sense to group them together.

Sometimes, I'll start with a simple link, and before you or I realize it, I've got an 800-word...something.

It used to bug me when such too-long posts would break up the flow of greg.org.  Fortunately, this era of renaming your problems away offers the solution: now, on greg.org, a too-long post is not a bug, it's a feature
.

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British MP Malcolm Bruce's powerful speech before Commons, 18 March 2003

entries about memorials

entries about Documenta 11 and the artists in it

my unanticipated design for the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

how Norman Mailer is, alarmingly, the center of the universe


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Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Winner

The Atomic Revolution Comic Book, image: ep.tc
detail, The Atomic Revolution, image: ep.tc


[Dublog, you rock.] If I could get the artist of The Atomic Revolution to do my Animated Musical, I would. Ausin-based artist Ethan Persoff found the mysterious 1957 comic book at an estate sale, along with "a corporate memo, a vinyl recording discussing Einstein's theories and a large calendar-sized brochure of modern-art-inspired paintings using a number of atomic weapons companies' logos." He scanned it and posted it online.

The caption for the above image reads: "On December 8, 1953, President Eisenhower proposed to the United Nations that the world join together to 'strip the atom of its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.' Even now the United States is building portable atomic power stations that can be shipped by air to any part of the world. These capsules of civilization [??] can be used to produce heat, power, and radioactivity."

Some of the gorgeous line drawings are based on photographs. They have a stunning combination of clarity, obfuscation, optimism and eerieness. If there was an Government-Issue Version of Detective Story, the noir installment of The Animatrix, this is what it'd look like. Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe did both Detective Story and Kid's Story, which gives the backstory on Neo;'s exasperating Zion groupie. Free will does not extend to not getting Animatrix. Buy it now. We have quotas to meet.
originally posted by greg 6.6.03

Beginning the Search for M. Philip Copp

  • Researching The Atomic Revolution, that rad Establishment comic book I want to rip off for my Animated Musical, I ventured into the library of The Society of Illustrators, which turns out to be just around the corner. Who knew? It's sort of an inker's Friar's Club; there's a gallery on the ground floor, a bar/dining room (which I'd imagine fills up with crusty cartoonists around, oh, 11:00AM), and an eclectic library on the third floor. Alas, no trace of Mr M. Philip Copp or The Atomic Revolution. [At least not there.]
    originally posted by greg 6.13.03

    On The Atomic Revolution: Part 2, American Business Concerns

    The non-comic comic book is often cited as a phenomenon of these troubled times...These garish publications are marked by horror, violence and practically everything but humor. They have evoked nation-wide condemnation.

    In recent years a far different kind of "unfunny comic" has made an appearance. It is a publication, drawn in newspaper strip form, prepared for and distributed by American business concerns...These little books are becoming an important tool in industrial public relations. They go to stockholders, employes, schools, civic organizations, and the general public. As a medium of goodwill, they have proved extremely effective.
    - New York Times, Sept. 1956
    The driving force behind these "industrial comics"? Mr M. Philip Copp, a commercial artist-turned-agent-turned-publisher, a Connecticut sailing man from the Ivy League (well, he attended both Princeton and Yale), who set out, quixotically, to win over the leaders of the American Establishment for the "juvenile delinquency"-inducing medium they were, at that very moment, condemning-- comic books.

    During the Forties, Copp repped Noel Sickles, whose cinematic chiaroscuro style influenced generations of comic artists. Copp apparently sought to leverage this powerful style for Larger Purposes than just entertainment. He comped up a "Life of Jesus" comic book, but neither the Lord nor his churches provided, and the project was shelved.

    Detail, The Korea Story, M Philip CoppStiffed by God, Copp turned to Caesar, then Mammon: in early 1950, the State Department bought over one million copies of "Eight Great Americans," in eleven languages, for its worldwide propaganda war against the Soviet Union. Then in September, Copp flipped another million copies of "The Korea Story," a comic booklet denouncing the communist North Korean June 25th invasion of South Korea. It was distributed in the Mid-East and Asia as part of the State Dept's "Campaign of Truth."

    1952 was at least as busy for the M. Philip Copp Publishing Company. He made commemorative comics for utility companies, followed by a 50th anniversary book, "Flight," which was purchased in large runs by the Aircraft Industries Association, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed, IBM, and GM. Oddly, his probable classic, "Crime, Corruption & Communism," went unmentioned in the Times puff piece which is the source for many of these details.

    Copp took a Company Man view of his comic books, calling himself "a 'catalyst: [I] furnish the basic idea, bring together artists, writers and researchers, and out comes the finished product." It may have been an attempt to reconcile the comic art he had an eye for with the highly circumscribed, WASP-y world he lived in. Copp didn't quite finish school; he ran a job shop, selling the Latest Thing to his classmates, neighbors, and yacht club slipmates; his boat was only a 14' knockabout, but he was funny and, later on, wrote glowing profiles of his sailing friends for the Times.

    Maybe I'm imagining (or projecting), but Copp's eager desire to please his native tribe has kind of a sadness to it. The Atomic Revolution is remarkable in part because of the incongruity of powerful artwork and the patently hollow Military Industrial message it delivers. But it hints at what might have been, if Copp'd had been less concerned with his standing at the yacht club and more concerned about his place among artists.
    originally posted by greg 6.19.03

    Part 3: The Making of The Atomic Revolution

    Finally, for the the half dozen people who are as intrigued by The Atomic Revolution, the Cold War propaganda comic Ethan Persoff put online, here is at least part of the story of its origins.

    Mushroom cloud, The Atomic Revolution, image: www.ep.tc
    Mushroom cloud, from The Atomic Revolution, image: www.ep.tc


    The comic itself is copyrighted 1957, by Mr. M Philip Copp, an artist nearly subsumed in an Eisenhower-era Establishment. At a time when comic books were being attacked in Congress and the popular media for contributing to juvenile delinquency, in an denigrated-yet-promising medium populated largely by second generation Lower East Side Jews, the Connecticut WASP Copp sold leased his artistic soul to custom-publish public relations comics for the government and major corporations, quaintly remembered as the Military Industrial Complex.

    According to a Sept. 1956 profile of "industrial comics," which annointed Mr Copp as the go-to guy for American Business Interests' comic needs, TAR, which was "largely devoted to the peacetime uses of the atom," was designed as a resource for those "interested in learning something about the fundamentals of atomic life." [emphasis mine.]

    M Philip Copp-R and artist Samuel Citron - L, reviewing The Atomic Revolution, image: nytimes 1956
    M Philip Copp, right, reviews artwork for
    The Atomic Revolution with artist Samuel Citron. image: NYTimes, 1956

    More than a year in the making, Copp farmed out the creation of the book to "no fewer than eleven free-lance artists and four writers. (The artists and writers are frequently replaced until the combination jells.)" Oliver Townsend, a one-time aide to Gordon Dean (ex-Chairman of The Atomic Energy Commission) is credited with the "basic text," and Life's science editor Warren Young turned in the final script. The only artist mentioned is Samuel Citron, shown reviewing the artwork for page 30, the "spotless" domed Antarctic mining city and "complete control over our environment" that the atom would soon make possible.

    But where did the grand vision for TAR come from? Not from Copp, a self-proclaimed "catalyst," whose real talent seems to be his eye, and whose own "creations" were limited to fawning profiles in the Times of the more accomplished members of his Connecticut shore yacht club. But ships do factor into the story. TAR was the brainchild of John Hay Hopkins, the chairman of Groton-based Electric Boat, a WWII submarine manufacturer, which, under Hopkins' leadership, became General Dynamics. According to the corporate history, Hopkins "saw that the need for defense was a permanent need, and not one that could be satisfied by improvisation in a time of crisis. 'Grow or Die' were words by which Hopkins lived..."

    Hopkins turned General Dynamics from a shipbuilder to a diversified one-stop-shop for the Cold Warrior, and the atom was a major part of GD's offering. It built the Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, and launched its General Atomic Division in 1955. Do the math. A year in the making, profile in late '56, TAR could've been conceived on the deck of a vermouth-soaked General Atomic after-party.

    Or perhaps it was part of a much more comprehensive media strategy. Hopkins turned to his slipmate M. Philip Copp for a $50,000, 500,000-copy run of an atomic comic, but to make "Grow or Die" the operating principle for military expenditures would require a multimedia lobbying public education campaign. You know, get that Disney fellow on the phone.

    Check out Prof. Marc Langer's amazing AWN article, "Disney's Atomic Fleet." After keeping his studio afloat during WWII by making animated training and propaganda films for the US armed forces, Walt Disney was asked to participate in Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program in 1955. The result: a multi-year, multi-channel atomic edutainment extravaganza that reminds us that skilful collaboration between the media's and military's big guns didn't start with embedding Jessica Lynch on MTV.

    Disney began producing a live-action/animation program, Disneyland, for the emerging ABC TV network. In turn, ABC was asked to invest, alongside Western Publishing, in the new theme park the show would promote. In 1957, Disney aired My Friend The Atom as a Tomorrowland segment on the show. The program, along with millions of copies of the accompanying book, went into schools. When Tomorrowland actually opened at Disneyland, it featured a fleet of "nuclear powered" submarines. Vice President Richard Nixon accompanied Disney on the sub's maiden voyage on June 14, 1959; the event was broadcast live on ABC.

    My Friend The Atom promised a future where "'clean' nuclear reactors will replace grimy coal and oil power plants. Radiation will be used to produce better crops and livestock. People will zoom from place to place in atomic cars, trains, boats and planes. 'Then, the atom will become truly our friend.'" If that future sounds familiar to you, it's because it's almost an exact frame-for-frame description of the contents of The Atomic Revolution.

    Like TAR, My Friend, The Atom was produced in collaboration with General Dynamics Corporation. John Hay Hopkins passed away in 1957, and while he never got to visit Disneyland, and it's unlikely that he saw the completion of MFTA, he surely got to see a final proof of The Atomic Revolution, thanks to the tireless work of Mr M. Philip Copp.

    Related link:
    from the Eisenhower Library, a 1953 report by the [William Hay] Jackson Committee on international information warfare
    originally posted by greg 6.23.03
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